I’m a liar.
I lie to myself. About myself.
We all do.
When I feel anxious, I ask the same question. “Why do I feel this way?”
Then I answer.
But whatever I come up with is deceptive.
It’s been proven.
Brains come up with stories. That’s what they do.
They say, “You’re not making enough money.”
Or “You’re nervous. Because you’re going on stage tonight.”
“We know from a vast number of psychological experiments that the story you tell yourself often bears no relationship to the way you [actually] came to feel,” Sam Harris said on my podcast.
He’s a neuroscientist, philosopher, meditation advocate. He has a PhD. But he took an alternate route.
He left college for 10 years.
And lived in India.
Now he hosts the “Making Sense” podcast. And he’s written multiple New York Times bestsellers: “The End of Faith,” “Waking Up,” “The Moral Landscape” and more.
AND he has a meditation app called “Waking Up.”
I had Sam come back on my podcast. I wanted him to teach me how to stop bullsh*ting myself.
Here’s what he told me:
1. DEVELOP AWARENESS
The night before our podcast, Sam did a live podcast with Daniel Kahneman, author of wrote “Thinking Fast & Slow.”
“He’s arguably the most influential psychologist alive at the moment,” Sam said.
And he won the Nobel Prize in economics.
So I had an advantage. I could ask Sam questions. And I could travel through Sam’s memory to ask Daniel Kahneman questions.
I had two minds in front of me.
I got lucky.
I wanted to know what percentage of human behavior is actually rational?
“Did that come up in the conversation?”
“Yeah. But not framed in that way,” he said. “I don’t know if anyone could give you a clear answer to that question. I mean certainly, most of what we do and think and feel is not the result of a rational, top-down executive appraisal of what’s going on.”
Translation: Basically nothing we do is rational.
I’ve tested this.
When I first started doing comedy, I thought I was funny. Because I was biased.
I gave talks at conferences. And everybody always laughed. But being funny at a boring business conference is a lot easier than being funny at a comedy club.
It’s a different audience, a different mindset. And a different skill.
I needed to practice.
And I needed a feedback loop.
So I started taping myself on stage.
It was bad. In a good way.
“These are humbling insights,” Sam said. “And the goal isn’t to become more depressed and cynical about what a mediocre person you are. The goal is actually to become more of the person you want to be.”
And to close the gap on who you are vs. who you think you are.
“When that distance is wide, you’re a hypocrite. But if you narrow it, that’s the effort of an examined life. It’s how you increase your honesty. And self-awareness. And ethical code.”
I kept going on stage. And watching the tapes.
It helped me see where I really was skill-wise.
It helped me narrow the gap.
So I could improve.
2. KNOW THERE’S A LIMIT
I’ve never met an “enlightened” person. Even the Dalai Lama doesn’t call himself the E-word.
We’re all subject to cognitive biases. It’s human nature.
So I asked Sam, “Can you overcome them?”
Translation: How rational can I actually get?
“Well, it was interesting to talk to Dani last night because he’s very pessimistic about how much you can improve your rationality,” Sam said.
“Because bias is a reliable form of error. We’re talking about correlated error. We’re talking about biases we all share… where we’re all going to be reliably wrong in one direction or another.”
Translation: Bias is in all of us. No one is immune. And we feel validated in bias. Because our friends believe the same false truths.
Sam called this “our collective mentality.”
And you can practice trying to anticipate “those situations where your intuition is wrong.”
Translation: You can begin to predict your own behavior.
He gave me an example:
It’s the devil.
We do this all the time. “I wish she loved me.”
“I wish my daughter didn’t go to college.”
“I wish I had more money.”
“These [are the] micro-disappointments,” Sam said. “Most of us live with this ambient level of anxiety. But you can become a connoisseur of your own neoricisis. And meditation is really the tool whereby you would do that.”
He says the point is to try to “be aware of your changes of state, moment-to-moment…”
Translation: Becoming aware can help you become honest with yourself. About yourself.
Which leads to less misunderstandings. Less hurt. Less anger.
More improvement. More self-satisfaction.
Here’s my plan:
I’m going to
A) expect the brain to make up stories. And fake rationalize reality.
B) Reject the story. (Nicely). I don’t want to be mean to myself.
C) Meditate. I’ve gone in and out of this habit. Sam has a new app called “Waking Up.” And I’ll tell you why I like it.
He doesn’t just teach how to meditate. He tells you the point.
And you’ll need it after you listen to this podcast.
Because I started the interview like this…
I said, “So, Sam, I want to talk about your book. But I also want to talk to you about all the ways the world can end.”
So we did.
It’s my new favorite porn.
Is that wrong?
But at least I know it.
Links & Resources:
- Download Sam’s Meditation app “Waking Up“
- Listen to Sam’s Podcast “Making Sense“
- “Waking Up” by Sam Harris
- “The Moral Landscape” by Sam Harris
- “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris
- “Freewill” by Sam Harris
- Follow Sam Harris on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram
- See more from Sam at SamHarris.org